Why you should care
Because as Proust once said, “Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy.”
If you’ve ever Googled “the history of the blow job,” you’ve no doubt encountered a slew of things, including perhaps a visit from HR. But depending on how willing you are to go down on your list of search results, there’s a juicy bit of oral history you may not have uncovered: the role that the mob played in popularizing the act, or perhaps we should say repopularizing it. From The Godfather to Deep Throat, which was bankrolled by the Colombo crime family, the world of organized crime had a major hand in bringing the blow job — taboo for centuries — back into the American mainstream in the early 1970s.
Though it seems hard to believe today, with surveys suggesting that two-thirds of American youth have engaged in oral sex, there was a time when the act Salon once labeled “the new joystick of teen sexuality” was not so widespread. Nor is fellatio (from the Latin “to suck”) a recent invention, as the racy frescoes at Pompeii and the chapter in the Kama Sutra devoted to “oral congress” attest. But, as Thaddeus Russell recounts in A Renegade History of the United States, oral sex was almost universally condemned as a sin from its earliest beginnings, and it really never made it off the brothel menu and into polite American society until well into the 20th century.
Then came an offer we couldn’t refuse.
In fact, even after thousands of U.S. soldiers discovered fumer le cigare while serving in Europe during World War II, the inaptly named “blow job” — possibly originating from the Victorian “below job,” or from jazz slang for playing an instrument — would not enter the American lexicon until the 1940s, where it largely referred, as in Andy Warhol’s Blow Job (1964), to a forbidden homosexual act. Eventually, of course, the move made its way into heterosexual bedrooms across the country, where it remained in the shadows of social stigma, not to mention on the wrong side of the law. “As of 1950,” Russell reminds us, “fellatio — even when practiced by a married couple — was a felony in all 48 states.”
Then came an offer we couldn’t refuse. Mario Puzo’s classic novel The Godfather was published in 1969, and it made an indelible impact on American cultural life. The mobster replaced the cowboy in the popular imagination, people started talking about horse heads and “Godfather tucks” (you’ll have to Google that one), and blow jobs were, as the late Christopher Hitchens once observed in his memorable essay “As American as Apple Pie,” “suddenly for real men.” Hitchens singles out this key passage from The Godfather about mob-connected crooner Johnny Fontane:
And the other guys were always talking about blow jobs … and he really didn’t enjoy that stuff so much … He and his second wife had finally not got along, because she preferred the old sixty-nine too much to a point where she didn’t want anything else and he had to fight to stick it in. She began making fun of him and calling him a square and the word got around that he made love like a kid.
Suddenly the blow job was a hetero man’s game, even if did not suit emasculated entertainers like Fontane. And, almost as if they had decided to strike while the iron was hot, members of New York’s Colombo crime family bankrolled Deep Throat, a pornographic film shot over several days in January 1972. Though its star, Linda Lovelace, would later claim she was forced by her abusive husband to perform the deeds that would make her famous, the 61-minute film became a national sensation — and even more of a household name once the title was used to identify Woodward and Bernstein’s secret Watergate source.
And just as “Deep Throat” helped take down one U.S. president, the blow job would contribute to impeaching another, and along the way enter the American bloodstream as never before. Hitchens also recounts the embarrassment felt by his friend, English journalist David Aaronovitch, while “in the same room as his young daughter when the TV blared the news that the president of the United States had received oral sex in an Oval Office vestibule.”
The unsavory news raised at least one immediate question in the curious girl’s mind: “Daddy, what’s a vestibule?”